Sister Teresa Riley, OSU: Always ready to listen and affirm

Sister in Ministry Update:

In July 2011, Sister Teresa Riley left St. Mary Parish and began serving as outreach in Benton, Ky. She moved to the Motherhouse in 2018.

Sister Teresa, left, discusses the food needs of two brothers living near St. Mary Parish with food pantry director Shirley Marshall.

There’s a food pantry at St. Mary Parish that serves about 200 families a month around the small far western Kentucky town of La Center. Those who qualify for assistance stop by the church basement between 9 and noon three days a week to collect cans or boxes of mostly donated food.

Ursuline Sister Teresa Riley is the pastoral associate at St. Mary, and recently learned of two brothers who had been without gas in their home since the January 2009 ice storm. Their parents both died in the past two years, and the men have been hesitant to ask for help, Sister Teresa said.

“If I call and ask if they’d like some food, they’ll take it,” she said.

On a recent day in March, the food pantry volunteers packed up some canned goods for the brothers, and Sister Teresa got a $10 voucher to shop for refrigerated items like eggs, milk, and cheese. She delivered it to one of the men, and stayed to talk with him in his yard about how he and his brother are doing.

That’s the sort of ministering people have come to expect from Sister Teresa, now in her ninth year at St. Mary.

“She is a living example of Angela Merici,” said Ursuline Sister Mary Jude Cecil, who lives 20 miles away in Paducah. “She has such a sense for the needs of others. She’s such a good listener, very affirming, gentle, and thoughtful. She’s very loved by her parishioners and her pastor,” Sister Mary Jude said. “She’s very accepting of people. She would never think of turning away a stranger.”

When a parish committee was interviewing Sister Teresa for the pastoral associate position in 2001, member John Wood said it was made clear what the parish wanted.

“One thing we asked is that she visit the sick and minister to the people,” Wood said. No one has been disappointed with the results, he said.

“When people are in the hospital, she’s there.”

His wife Elaine Wood, who along with John became an Ursuline Associate a few years ago, said Sister Teresa is much loved in the parish.

Sister Teresa calls Fr. Julian Ibemere “a wonderful priest,” who splits his time between St. Mary and Rosary Chapel in Paducah.

“If you’re going to have surgery, she’ll be there,” Elaine Wood said. “If you are an older person without much family, she’ll stay overnight, as long as someone will relieve her in the morning,” she said. “The elderly love her, they call her ‘sweet’ and ‘caring.’ She does just a wonderful job.”

St. Mary is a mission church with about 90 families, meaning it shares a pastor with another parish, now Rosary Chapel in Paducah. As pastoral associate, Sister Teresa is responsible for “whatever the pastor and many volunteers do not do,” she said.

Fr. Julian Ibemere is pastor at St. Mary, saying Mass there on Tuesday mornings, Wednesday evenings, and Sunday mornings. He hears confessions, takes Communion to and anoints those who homebound, and administers other sacraments. He oversees the business responsibilities and attends the parish council meetings, Sister Teresa said.

Fr. Ibemere calls Sister Teresa “an embodiment of humility, hardworking, and love. The La Center community bears witness to these. Her love knows no bounds. She believes in ecumenism, and for this she has made converts and friends for the church in La Center and the entire church,” he said. “She has special love for the sick and the less privileged.”

Sister Teresa said Fr. Ibemere is a bible scholar and offers great instruction to RCIA candidates, but Fr. Ibemere said he learns much from Sister Teresa.

“She is my teacher and she keeps me straight. I have learned a lot from her, working with her is both enlightening and inspiring.”